HR Blog

November 12, 2021 | Olaide Bakare, PHRi

Every organization has them – unwritten rules which are much more potent than written ones. These are the social cues that tell employees what is valued in a company, as well as what is dangerous. These rules tell them how to act, behave and participate in a way that will be successful in the organization.

These unwritten rules may vary from industry to industry and company to company, that is, something that can get you placed on the fast-track for promotion at one company might get you blacklisted, or worse, at another. Hence, it is important that employee decode these implicit rules in the context of the culture of the organization they are working in. However, some of these rules are general and may apply to various organizations.

Here are five unwritten rules I have learnt in the course of my career:

There Is Always An Office Hierarchy

This is not about an organogram. Who runs your office? You will agree with me that 85% of the time, it is not the boss. Bosses tend to concentrate more on driving the business, leaving the real job of running the office to someone else. Your job is to identify this person and stay on the right side of them.

This can be the Executive Assistant, Secretary, or HR Manager, and it can be so either because they have the ear of the boss, they are trusted by the boss, they have been at the company for a long time or they are simply unpleasant so much so that they use various tactics to get their own way – no matter what. So, you would hear statements like “everything goes through Deola first”, “run it by Dami first to see if it is a good idea”. Sounds familiar?

For most people, the natural reaction would be to dislike or resist them. Don’t do it! It would be unwise to make an enemy of them. They are the real authority, so, just play the game. Yes, it is not fair and you do not like it, but until a better system comes along, work with what you’ve got.

The Open Door May Not Always Be Open

You may find a gem of a company that will tell you the CEO’s door is always open, so, come and share your best ideas! But then, the reality may be quite different. It may turn out that your manager does not love the idea of you marching into the executive suite and spilling all your brilliance.

Moreover, as lovely as an open-door idea is, it may not always be practical. The CEO may never be around, or may rarely have a minute of time to spend with you, or any employee for that matter.

If your company says it has this policy, watch to see if anyone actually uses it (and what happens when they do). Best to be informed before you invite yourself in to share your big ideas with the boss.

Know When To Keep Your Opinions To Yourself

It is very easy have opinions – we all have them. Trouble is knowing when to keep them to yourself and when to speak up. Most people cannot resist the urge to be silent because they think their opinion counts for something, will make them seem intelligent or win them approval. All the aforementioned, of course, are the wrong reasons for expressing an opinion. The correct reason for expressing an opinion is because you have been asked to.

In the workplace, avoid talking with both sides of your mouth, especially if you have not been asked what your opinion is on a matter. And if asked, ensure to express your opinion clearly and precisely.

Rapport Is Your Friend

People buy from people they like. This principle holds true within many work cultures. Those who get the promotions, raises, and best assignments are generally known and well-liked by the decision-makers.

When you interact with others, you are, in effect, selling yourself to others. You are giving them insight into who you are as a person, not just another worker-bee. Having said that, it is best to be authentic, avoid oversharing, and be known as a positive, problem-solving solution provider. This will do more for you than any of the letters on your resume. If you struggle with building rapport, remember this golden nugget for engaging in conversations: “What is everyone’s favourite subject? Themselves!”

Slackers Never Win

This is an obvious rule, but many people tend to ignore it because “their workplace is so chill”. Know that no boss is ever chill about having a lazy or sluggish employee in their organization. You have been hired to work, and you are expected to do it well. Just because the work culture is casual and deadlines are vague, does not mean that you should slack off. There is no excuse for you to treat work lightly.

You should always work hard and never slack off, even if you are not expected to. Believe it or not, there are always hidden eyes and ears watching over you. These eyes know who works hard and who does not, and this affects the fate of people in the long run. So, if you want to get ahead in life, do not cut yourself slack, even if you have the freedom to do so. Slackers never win!


The above rules are by no means a written-in-stone manual or guide, hence unwritten. The rules can change as quickly as management and usually do. Therefore, it is best to be observant, listen to your gut, and be led by common sense.

Do you agree with the rules listed above? Are there any rules you would like to add? Let’s have a conversation in the comments section!

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